Apocalyptic Romance

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Okay, 2016 is over. Hopefully we’re not barreling toward a complete apocalypse. I kind of predicted this in my House of Rae series. The good news? Sex for hire is legal. The bad news? The world is on fire.

Here’s an excerpt from Book I, Salvation, set in 2060. Smashwords coupon WF94N puts this book at $1.99 (half price) through January 5. This is not a cliffhanger, fully standalone. Don’t miss it!

~~~

Lu wrangled his vintage Harley through heavy Kansas City traffic of early evening, coming in off Oak Ridge Road and onto the Loop for several miles before exiting to Ward Parkway. Red taillights and blue-white headlights glared on his face. The rushing air dried and heated his skin, poured over his head and pounded like a hard massage, whipping his clothes and hair.

A car whizzed past with its moto-tunes turned up way beyond the legal limit. Kids. Lu laughed. Night had always been their time to play. Off to the left, light poured up from one of the sports arenas. Like so many other activities, sports happened now in the protection of night. Construction, road repairs, athletics—anything that took place outside had become too dangerous in full sun. The mixing of worlds remained a congested and uneasy one with nighttime recreation now butting heads with work hours for so many.

The venerable Plaza district vibrated with activity. He loved the art deco buildings with their decorated facades and ornamental towers. A European village atmosphere made the shops and restaurants a uniquely appealing destination in the old town. People clustered along the sidewalks and around the splashing fountains and their bronze statuary—a mermaid blowing her conch, bare-breasted Pomona clutching ripe fruit, Poseidon amid rampant stallions. Lu parked the Harley and started toward the dance hall.

Absently, he looked at faces as he ducked and shouldered his way through the crowds. The mood here buoyed him. It had been one of the first places in the state to embrace the new agenda with buildings that accommodated energy collection and direction. The Plaza Energy Center had become a healing mecca for people from all over the region as well as the gathering and distribution point for energy sent out over the grid. Even now, he could see people crowding the entry to the three-story building and feel the buzzing furor of the energy healing process underway there. Above the roof, the air crackled. If he ever had time, he wanted to see the stats showing how much of the metro area population was covered by the Plaza grid. It had to be a major contributor, and that gave him deep satisfaction.

At the glossy red doors of Figaro’s, Lu waited in line until he faced the muscled attendant.

“Tiberius.” He grinned at the big man.

“Hi Lu, good to see you.” Tiberius flipped the switch and the door opened.

Lu pushed through the doorway and stood momentarily in the lobby.  Music crashed through from all directions, momentarily louder when one of several doors opened. The walls glistened and throbbed with a kaleidoscope of lights and sound. People came and went: men in tuxedos escorting elegant women in silk gowns, a cluster of enthusiastic young people with wildly coiled hair and fake buckskin clothing, two women with jeweled bracelets and ruffled flamenco skirts.

“Lu!”

He turned as he recognized the voice.

“Randy, how have you been?” He embraced the older man and exchanged a quick hug with the woman beside him. “Amber. You guys working a shift here?”

Randy nodded. The braid of his long reddish hair had partly frizzed out around his ears and neck, creating a coppery halo. “Tiring, though, for old geezers like us. Lots of energy pouring up the lines.”

They laughed, enjoying the company.

“Hell, it’s tiring even for young geezers,” Lu observed. “New adept at the House—and we need to hire at least another two subs.”

Amber nodded. “Next shift is training a new one here, lots of good people learning these skills. All the institute branches have waiting lists, especially for the dimensional stuff. Really gives me a lot of hope.”

“Me, too. But I wish science would catch up with us. What the hell is a dimensional shift, anyway? Are we hallucinating or are we really jumping past the fourth dimension?” Lu shook his head.

“I know, it bothers me, too,” Randy agreed. “Makes me wonder what we’re missing. I think we could be accomplishing more.”

“Need some kind of get together one of these days,” Lu said as they started their separate ways.

“Absolutely,” Amber called back, her long turquoise and pink skirts flaring as she strode off.

Lu smoothed back his hair, straightened the white silk shirt, and brushed his hands against his black slacks before pushing through the door marked “Tango.” Subdued light outlined the long room and its crowded dance floor. Once inside, all the building’s other music and noise died away leaving only the compelling strains of “Gallo Ciego.” He cruised along the tables of people before stopping by a woman sitting alone. Her dark eyes settled on him.

He bent at the waist in a formal bow. “Lieutenant Whitman.”

“Mr. Haverson.” She gave her hand, standing and smiling as they strolled to the dance floor without talking.

Her long fitted dress split to the hip, framing her left leg in shimmering yellow. Lu dropped her back against his arm, waited for the beat, and then they were off. Their dance with its rigid poses and abrupt turns became another of the many on the gleaming dance floor, elongated and rhythmic as their bodies pulsed to the tight drum and guitar thrums. Her skin brushed along his, her legs matched his steps thigh to thigh.

After a time, when their breath had quickened and outpaced the pulse of the music, they returned to the table.

“Fabulous, Lu,” she said, fanning herself with her hand and sipping from her tall frosted glass. “Been too long.”

“My pleasure, Cass. I love dancing with you.”

“Now, of course, you want to know what I found.”

“Yes.” Lu leaned forward, apprehensive about what she would say.

“Nothing. That’s the short answer. The long answer is a wreck about four days ago out on I-70 East. Might be a terrorism connection. The guy carried large quantities of explosives, looks like C-4, but the event didn’t leave a lot to pick through. Domestic thinks there was some kind of self-destruct mechanism involved. Driver evidently fell asleep, wrapped his ass quite neatly around an overpass support.”

~~~

And now, a glimpse of the bad boy of our tale, Josh Carter:

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In one day’s time, Caerwin’s life changes forever. Everything she knows is lost in a vicious bloody battle—her family with its network of kinsmen, her home at the bustling hillfort of western Britannia, her ancient way of life as a Celt. Reeling in shock, her wrists and ankles bound, she faces the man responsible.

She spits at his greeting and vows to kill him.

Marcellus, commander of Rome’s Legion XIV Gemina, spares this fiery young beauty from the slave traders who take away survivors of her tribe. War hardened and even more inured by Imperial Rome’s dissolute ways, he’s drawn to her innocence.

He wants her. He’ll make her his no matter what it takes.

Contest ends at Midnight Saturday July 30. Adults only due to explicit and occasionally dark sexual content.

A Scene in the Forum

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Image of Rome’s Forum circa 312 AD. A rendering developed through the auspices of the University of Texas, Austin. See http://teachingwithoutpants.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-ruin-of-rome-or-something-happened.html

Once the priests had offered prayers and the sacrifices had been made, the crowd moved slowly outside. With his arm firmly wrapped around Caerwin’s waist, Marcellus stopped on the temple steps looking over the brightly garbed crowds still thronging the plaza. Surrounding the Forum, the great temples, statues, and official buildings of the Roman Empire stood like sentinels. Fountains splashed in brilliant sunlight. In the distance, the hills of Rome gleamed with their buildings, streets, and greenery.

Nothing in her life had been this overpowering. The city, the empire, all of it seemed summed up in this man standing beside her with his strength and beauty, his internal conflicts and passions. His easy use of violence. His knowledge of all things. His absolute power to conquer and hold her.

They descended the steps and walked a short distance. His head turned sharply and he looked down on her as if to speak. His face, which had become thinner in the last weeks, lightened with a tender expression. For a breathless moment, Caerwin thought he would kiss her or speak words of love.

She would say what she longed to say. “Marcellus, I…”

His gaze shifted to a person standing nearby and his face hardened. “Vedius,” he said, raising his voice over the clamor. “Yo Saturnalia!”

Excerpted from Caerwin & Marcellus, the sequel to Caerwin and the Roman Dog. Coming soon! Watch for a special offer.

Caerwin and Marcellus

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COMING SOON! Release date to be announced soon.

Finished! A week ago, I finished writing the last page of the second novel about Caerwin. I’ve been sad ever since. How do you live with two compelling characters for over two years and not get attached? I’ve watched them grow, fight, suffer, and grow some more. Now they become part of my past. I’ll miss them.

Truth be told, I’ll miss more than Caerwin, Marcellus, and supporting cast. I’ve been immersed in Imperial Rome with all its triumphs, perversions, violence, and accomplishments. The fascinating world that was Rome endured a thousand years. Looking back on those years, the progress of their culture, and the countless ways in which we today follow in their footsteps is both depressing and exhilarating. It’s impossible to imagine where we would be today without Rome.

While I sing Rome’s praises, I also recognize how much better we are today than the people of Rome. For one thing, we don’t accept slavery as the norm. Rome’s social class system included the ‘noble’ classes (patricians and equestrians) who considered work beneath them. They held the bulk of the empire’s wealth, controlled its government and industries, and owned both city houses and country villas. The plebian class, roughly equivalent to our middle class, were the freeborn men or freedmen who worked every day to sustain the modest circumstances in which they lived.

Then there were the slaves, vast numbers of persons captured in Rome’s relentless military expansion over most of the known world. Wealthy household might have as many as 300 slaves. Slaves were like livestock or furniture–zero rights. Could be raped, branded, or killed without consequence. Yet they could also become part of a family, cared for, and often freed to live as freedmen (and women).

So while we can thank Rome for establishing the foundations of our legal system, our economic system, our tradition of the arts, social customs, and more, we can also thank the people who came after–from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and down to those who fight each generation for better working conditions, more social justice, refinements of law and wage equity for the conditions we live in today. It’s a sobering perspective.

And this, dear friends, is why writing historical fiction will always be part of my writing experience.

Jarrod’s Valentine

manin suitA new short story starring Jarrod Bancroft

 

Macie’s face reflected the subdued outdoor light that filtered in through the restaurant window. Ignoring the clench in his chest, Jarrod studied her from across the noisy room. She looked like a work of art, the planes and lines of her face cast in shadow, her delicate skin framed by luxurious lengths of dark hair. One of those exquisite images painted by some long-dead artist where the woman’s pensive expression signaled vague internal conflict. His impulse was to rush over to the table, take her hands, and slip to his knees to ask what he could do to brighten her day. His mouth twisted and he turned back to his newspaper.

Whatever appetites Macie Fitzgerald provoked, today the situation at Bancroft Investments demanded his full attention. The stock report only reiterated what he already knew—their standing had slipped again. Somehow rumors had leaked. It was a matter of time before this blew wide open.

He quietly folded the paper, signaled the waiter and paid his check before slipping out the side door. Much as he wanted Macie right now, the ugly responsibilities in his real life could not wait.

The door to his dad’s office was slightly ajar. His father stood at the windows in the far corner, his back turned as he stared out into the city. The older man’s shoulders triggered Jarrod’s memory, all the times those same shoulders had loomed over him, an impenetrable wall of dark against dim light. An immovable object. Jarrod swallowed an ugly taste in his mouth. And it had nothing to do with his lunch.

So the bastard already knew.

“Took your time,” the old man said. He didn’t bother to turn. “You’ve never appreciated the value of a full day’s work.”

“Fuck you, Preston,” Jarrod said. He slipped off his overcoat and dropped it on the chair. He stood beside the desk and folded his arms, facing his father’s back.

“What do you plan to do?” Preston said. “Are you riding your white horse, ready to save the world?”

“Anything to sidestep the facts,” Jarrod said. “That’s been your strategy all along. I remember my first weeks here, when I went through the files for that mutual fund and asked you, and you shifted blame to Evers. Always somebody else’s fault. Always something I made up or misinterpreted.”

“So you’re going to bring the house down around our ears, is that the plan?”

“You assigned me the dirty work thinking I wouldn’t put it together.” Jarrod spun the desk chair around and gripped the thick leather back. “I’ve dug all the way down. I’m not buying any more of your bullshit.”

Preston whirled to face him. The flesh around his nose had turned white. “Whine, you little fuck. You have no idea. I’ve worked my ass off, dedicated my life to giving you and your mother the very best. I don’t answer to you.”

Jarrod swallowed his rage, sinking his fingers into the chair upholstery to keep from planting a fist in that smug face. The man might be a despicable cheat, but he was his father. “You’ll answer to the prosecutor. Evers won’t take this sitting down.”

“Evers is as big a baby as you are. Suck it up, boy. This is how things get done.”

Jarrod closed his eyes then slammed out of the room. Nothing he could say would change Preston Bancroft. Why had it taken him twenty-eight years to accept that fact? \

Odd how familiar this all felt. As if he’d seen it in a dream. As if he’d wished it a thousand times and only now realized it. He strode to his office and slid open his desk drawers looking for anything that might hold value, but after a few minutes, he grabbed his overcoat and stalked out.

~~~

Jarrod had no idea how long he’d walked. Traffic had thinned slightly but people still crowded the sidewalks. Snow whirled down from a pale gray sky obscuring the tops of the taller buildings. Even jammed deep into his overcoat pockets, his hands felt like chunks of ice. Kind of like his stomach.

What if his father was right? Jarrod released his breath between pursed lips. Did the world of corporate finance require this kind of deception and manipulation? Law school hadn’t prepared him for this. Would he look back in twenty years and realize he’d been hopelessly naïve?

Maybe he would. But right now, this day, he had to sit down and think about his options. Carefully. With whiskey.

He shook his head as the image of Macie formed in his mind. Macie in her boots and corset standing over him, her gorgeous breasts bulging at the neckline, her green eyes flashing as she demanded his complete obedience. He longed for the dungeon, the reassurance of bonds strapped firmly on his wrists and ankles, the blessing of a lash stinging his back and buttocks. He wanted to crawl to Macie’s feet and never leave, live by her command.

He snorted in disgust. What would Preston say if he had any idea about his role with Macie and her Academy? Jarrod couldn’t even imagine. He’d gone for the training to satisfy a long-held secret desire, the overwhelming need to explore an aspect of himself that he’d always managed to suppress. What he’d found there shocked him, even now. Every day of his enthusiastic submission to pain and discipline shocked him.

But he loved it. Craved it. Felt blissfully happy in ways he’d never imagined.

And finding Mrs. Fitzgerald? Macie Fucking Fitzgerald? How many restless nights in high school had he imagined touching her? How many history classes had he watched her walk across the front of the room, write on the chalkboard, pierce him with her intense gaze while he hunched over in his desk trying to hide his erection?

He’d been a boy then, but he wasn’t a boy now. The discovery that the harsh mistress overseeing his training at the Academy had been the same woman who opened his mind to the triumphs and foibles of human endeavor had left him without defenses. It wasn’t just her beauty or her unflinching skill at domination that awed him. It was the depth of her understanding of human nature.

Even more intriguing was the mystery in her that broke to the surface in unexpected moments. When she was vulnerable. When they had reached the point of exhaustion and satiety and she curled in his arms.

Jarrod stopped, staring blindly into a store window where a display of Valentine hearts and cavorting cupids barely penetrated his consciousness. A tall man with dark hair and a worried expression stared back at him. Fucking Valentine’s Day.

His arms felt empty without her. In the dark eyes gazing back at him in the glass, he saw the truth of what he really wanted from her.

Forever.

He wanted forever.

Backyard barbeques. Dogs. Long rainy evenings snuggled on the couch together. Walks along the beach. Macie watching him undress, opening her arms to his embrace. Her lips curved in that entrancing smile.

Jarrod shoved the heavy glass door open and stopped at the counter. The air smelled of warm chocolate, sugar, and a hint of cinnamon. Stuffed animals, shiny heart-shaped balloons, and confections of every shape and flavor crowded the surrounding tables. What the hell was he doing?

Would Macie take offense at a display of affection? He couldn’t exactly break out of a slave’s expected behavior and vow eternal love. He was acting on impulse. She might reject him entirely. He glanced up at the woman standing on the other side of the counter,

“Something small,” he said. “Friendly but not too much.”

She studied him, her carefully sculpted eyebrows knitted in a frown. “Chocolate?”

“Definitely chocolate,” he said.

The clerk’s thin shoulders jutted against her draped red sweater as she lifted a small heart toward him. The cellophane wrap rustled as she placed it on the glass countertop. “Top of the line chocolate truffles,” she said. “We also have creams or assorted bonbons in this size. What does she like?”

Jarrod paused, staring at the glistening red package. He had no idea what she liked. Maybe he was way off track with this idea. She’d never given him a gift. At her invitation after Academy graduation, he’d moved into her townhouse as her slave. It was a vacation from reality and the most fulfilling experience he’d ever known. A strict protocol ruled his activity there. Each day when he walked away from Bancroft Investments and the world of business, his existence narrowed down to Macie. He took off his real world life at the same time he took off his clothes. What she wanted, what she demanded. Macie in control.

But despite her assured control, he suddenly realized he’d always sensed an opening. His face heated as he remembered his brash act the night of Academy graduation. He’d taken her. The need she’d teased along for six weeks boiled to the surface and he barely been able to ask permission before throwing her back on the bed. She acted as though she expected it, as if she’d been waiting for him.

What the hell could he assume from that?

Even in high school, some part of him understood that he had the power to take her. At that point, he had no clue how to use that power on a woman ten years older. With the many females he’d bedded over the years, his actions had seemed like play. He toyed with women, watched them from a distance, predicted what they’d do or say. Teased them along. All of it bored him.

A few times since then, even as Macie’s slave, he’d pushed the boundaries.  Much as he loved pleasing her, he also loved the undercurrent of as-yet-unfulfilled promises they both knew but never discussed. That he would, someday, pin her against the wall and rip off her clothes one piece at a time. Hold her hostage at the end of his cock. Watch her nipples tighten under his gaze until they protruded like chocolate candies waiting for his mouth.

“The creams,” he said, jerking out of his reverie. His cock had stiffened. “Assorted creams.”

With the package caught under his arm, he stopped to wait for a light surrounded by a dozen other pedestrians bundled against the cold. Traffic snarls backed up to the next block, a typical Friday afternoon. Only it didn’t feel typical. It felt charged, like the ground could erupt any moment, like a tsunami rolled toward him.

He pictured her townhouse, the fireplace, the look in her eyes when he would start unbuttoning her blouse. How her skin would glow in the firelight as he leaned over her. How her dark hair would pool against the rug. How she would taste. The sound of her voice protesting.  How he would hold her wrists and make her gasp.

“Taxi!” he called, stepping to the curb. Yeah, the ground could erupt. To hell with Preston Bancroft and his criminal enterprise. To hell with doubt and protocol and silly rules meant to be broken. He knew what he wanted. He was taking it.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Read the full incredible story of Jarrod Bancroft. On sale half price on Feb 14 ONLY. Your Valentine from me! Enjoy!

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